Month: May 2013

In defense of new words

Do you make up words?

Gosh – I certainly do.

There is a strong conservative* strand amongst scholars and users of English, the strand of thought that says that words should mean what they have always meant and that the words we have are quite good enough, thank you very much, and why is that terrible greengrocers’ apostrophe disfiguring that sign? Bah, humbug!

I’ll own up to some of that – it’s really why I bought Strunk & White, after all. I find some punctuation abuse to be nigh on unbearable, and malapropisms require me to offer corrective advice with alacrity.

Meanings do change. I despair whenever I hear “momentarily” used to mean “in a moment” rather than “for a moment”, although the former usage is now so widespread that it is non-standard to hear the original form. Ditto “enormity” to mean “big” rather than “appalling”, and “hacker” to denote a destructive computer user, and so on. I just about accept that meanings change.

But new words? I love hearing them, and I love inventing them.

Part of this is because I am a writer, and finding fresh expressions is part and parcel of that. Consider Shakespeare – he is credited with inventing more than 1,500 words and phrases in his work (although whether he actually invented them or wrote down spoken usage is another question). English was at a fluid point in its development then, the grammar having largely found its modern form but with spelling still not standardised.

Part of this is that I am a science fiction writer and a technologist – I have truck with the new and the unknown all the time, and finding terms to capture the essence of these new things is a significant portion of what I do (I’m a computer programmer: I over-extend metaphors for a living). I am no Humpty Dumpty saying that words mean exactly what I mean them to mean – I use existing vocabulary accurately where it is being used in its established context – but I will invent new words where necessary, and reuse existing words if the context is distinct.

But mostly it’s just fun to play with words.

[*] very much with a small ‘c’, but consider this satire on the English Defence League.

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World building

My main writing project at the moment is Song, but I am also cooking up a new roleplaying setting.

Much of the detail of the setting is still in flux and I won’t write about it in the specific until I’ve actually played it through with my group, but I am doing a bit of world building and I wanted to talk a bit about the process.

The game I am wanting to run is a supers game.

If you read comics, you will find that each character or book has its own world rules. Things get pretty interesting when those world rules collide (look at The Avengers/Avengers Assemble, for example) but generally you’ll want some underlying principles to guide the story and setting rules.

As an example, lets posit a world in the future where humanity is in reduced circumstances: climate changes triggered by profligate fossil fuel combustion and misguided efforts to recover methane from deep water methyl hydrates have made temperatures climb; shifting water mass (melting ice and deeper seas) has changed the pressures on continental plates and triggered increased volcanic activity; the seas have risen and weather patterns have thrown agriculture into chaos. People live in sealed cities, or high in the mountains away from the plants.

Ah yes, the plants.

With the increased temperatures, plants have run rampant. Long-suppressed genes for ambulatory motion and other predatory behaviours have expressed, and the herbivorous biosphere is generally in the business of eliminating large animal life. Humans are still high on the food chain, but the top spots are taken by plants.

From this seething, super-evolving biomass emerges superhumans, people who through weird genetic accidents exhibit abnormal abilities: some are expressing long-suspected genes in human DNA, some are mixes of humans with animal or plant.

So what powers can these people have?

The answer of course is pretty much anything, but looking through a list of superpowers in a game manual will allow you to cross off obviously infeasible abilities. Time travel? No. Flight is possible, but the flier would need wings. Enhanced senses are fine, as is telepathy, but any technological powers are off limits.

Once the world’s limits are defined, we can get down to generating stories. These are some of the questions which I have found most useful:

  • how do the heroes meet? Why do they want to fight together? Depending on the setting, this is something you can pull the players in on.
  • what or who is it that they are fighting? This could be obvious from the outset, but building suspense and holding the interest of the players suggests that there should be layers.
  • what are the goals of the team? Is it just to stop the bad stuff from happening, or do they have any deeper motives?
  • given those constraints, what kind of missions would the players go on? There’s no requirement that the game be episodic, but having a series of short term objectives which build to a larger conclusion is a good storytelling technique in any medium.

So, let’s continue with the future hostile planet setting.

I’m going to say that the heroes all grew up in a mountain village. They have know each other for years, but one night there is a sudden storm filled with weird thick rains and strange green lightning: their bodies are changed somehow – awakened. Their powers manifest.

The goal of the team is to find out what happened to them, but the immediate objective is to save as much of their village as they can – the storm did tremendous damage to the buildings, and they use their powers to save their friends and family. Some of the others in the village were not so lucky – their bodies changed, but they died in screaming agonies, or simply melted into the ground.

Once that is resolved, they learn from a village elder that there is a weird building on the other side of the valley which might have some clues to their transformation. But they’ll have to travel through a teeming jungle to reach it.

From there, the characters learn of changes occurring in the atmosphere which are going to make more of those strange storms. The go on to find the source, a mad scientist who wants to awaken all of humanity to their full potential. The heroes take on the mission to stop this crazy man, to protect the life they have.

World building is fun. Telling stories and playing games in those worlds is fun too.

Do you make your own worlds for roleplaying? Are there any favourite settings you have played?

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Acting Out

The first time I went to a writing class was when I attended a story structure workshop given by Jessica Morrell. It was basically about the three act structure.

This story form is well known in writing circles although it was new to me then – it’s basically the format of TV shows and many films.

  1. act one sets up the story, including the inciting incident
  2. act two includes plot twists and ratchets up the tension
  3. act three includes the climax and the resolution

In between each act, you will find some kind of gating event which means the protagonist can never go back to how things were. The acts may not be the same length – indeed, act two is often as long as the other two combined.

This structure fits television especially well because the acts can easily be slotted in between ad breaks (and it lends itself to cliffhangers just before a break to make sure the eyeballs come back) but it’s a useful basic structure for novels also, particularly when you’re still learning pacing.

I long resisted fitting my stories into a traditional structure, but I also want my stories to be compelling. The three act structure is a well worn format for making a story with increasing tension over the course of the narrative, but most critically it helps the writer to introduce changes which cannot be reversed – and irreversible change forces the story forward.

In outlining Song, I laid the new story out in its act structure. I did this initially for planning purposes (because planning out the outlining for 62 individual scenes was unwieldy) but it helps to give me a layout where I can say that a gating event happens just before a chapter break, which will help pull the the reader on to the next chapter.

Are there any story structures you like to use? Is everything you write three act, or do you eschew formal structure?

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Noteboard

I mentioned the Noteboard in my post on scribbling tools and I have been using it joyously for the last week or so since it turned up.

It really is a lovely thing.

What I have been using it for so far is to draw brainstorming mind maps so that I can splurge ideas down and make connections fast. This isn’t really much different than I would do on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, except:

  1. it’s bigger than a notebook or a standard piece of paper
  2. it’s much more portable than a whiteboard

One thing to watch for in using this tool is scuffing off of the writing – there’s enough movement in the folds that even panels deep inside can get rubbed together if the board is pressed tight. Another thing is that the ink gets progressively more difficult to remove from the surface over time, so you don’t want to leave it on too long.

Best moment so far? Talking to colleagues about my new idea for a roleplaying campaign and being able to whip out the Noteboard to show them, then being described as an evil genius for just happening to have my plans for world domination on hand.

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The Fiasco Method

Fiasco is a great game, and one of the things that is great about it is how the story and characters are built up.

A traditional approach to character creation (in games as well as writing) is to think about the background and how that feeds in to the skills and personality of the character now. So, you might have a dwarf magician with a history of poor decision-making and a penchant for humiliating audience members in his stage act, or a former policeman who was discharged from the force after an incident in which he lost his leg to a crocodile (I have actually played that character – he had two prosthetic legs, one for walking that looked very much like a normal leg and one for running which was more like the leg blades Oscar Pistorius ran with – although his Brummie accent was bit tiresome to put on after a while).

The downside with individual character creation is that you can end to end up with isolated characters and no immediate impulse for a story. At least, that’s what happens for me.

In Fiasco, you start by describing relationships and then fill in the details of the characters based on the relationship and the other elements of the story.

Now Fiasco, obviously, is a game and as such it is based in part on chance: you roll dice to shape the options available for the relationships and story elements, and the intent is to build a complete story setting to play in, but the same basic approach will work for building characters in a pre-existing setting. That’s something that you can do in a writing exercise, and the story treatment I mentioned in the Fiasco post is good evidence of that, but it also requires a playset for your setting which may be impractical when you’re building something in a significantly different milieu*.

So, let’s have an example.

The story is set in a future prison, one where every inmate is under constant surveillance. Privacy is almost impossible in an absolute sense, but is more available from other prisoners than is usual in current prisons. I am going to say that there are three primary characters, A, B and C.

  • A and B have a mentoring relationship, where A is the senior and B is the junior. Let’s say that B is a prisoner starting a new occupational activity and A is the activity trustee.
  • A and C have dealer/customer relationship, where A is the customer and C is the dealer
  • B and C share a secret. No, let’s have C with the secret that B knows – perhaps C is a disgraced cop looking to recover some cred by informing on the other prisoners, and B knows that C used to be with the police.

That’s pretty interesting. There are hints there of the kinds of needs and objects which might appear in a Fiasco game – for a three character setup you would have a detail attached to each relationship: one need, one object, and one location. I’m thinking for this one I’d have the location be the occupational activity room, the object would be a packet of drugs or whatever is being dealt, and need would be to get even.

So now we have a small setup for the situation, who are the characters themselves?

  • A – Anton is a veteran of a decade-long gang war. He has scars, gang tats and the dangling earlobes of big piercings removed, but he is still only in his early thirties. He’s an expert in making virtual environments, a skill he used for phishing scams on the outside but he is now the trustee in the virtual environment lab. He just wants to get through his sentence and get out in the next five years. Unfortunately, he has an on and off habit for Bounce, a modern meth variant.
  • B – Brian is a recent arrival, a late-forties enforcer who is trying to get out of that game after his latest conviction. He has been learning virtual environment programming from Anton. Despite being the older guy, Brian looks up to Anton both as a programmer and as a role model for going straight.
  • C – Chuck has just been transferred to this prison from a lower security facility, or at least that’s the story. In fact, Chuck is a former cop who has been sent in to expose Bounce usage in the prison. However, he has become corrupt and has been making money off the back channel supply he is supposed to use as bait for the suppliers. Also, rather unfortunately for Chuck, Brian knows him: Chuck was in on a deal which Brian was the muscle on. Chuck hasn’t realized that Brian is someone he should recognise yet,

That’s obviously not the whole story: where do the drugs come from? How does the prison security system play into all of this? How will Brian react when he finds out that Anton is a user? How will Chuck make use of his connections to garner more influence? But that’s an interesting set of characters to begin with, and if you spend more than fifteen minutes on your own characters you’ll undoubtedly have something even better.

[*] you can compile a playset for your setting if you like, but that’s a different skill than using one that’s already in existence and you don’t probably don’t want to be making a playset every time you write a story. Conversely, there are a lot of playlets already floating around so you may be able to find one that’s appropriate already available.

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Agility part two: Burndown tips and tricks

Further to my post last week on agile processes, here are more ideas on how to use a burndown chart.

Tip 1: Separate Projects

I’m currently running with two burndown charts: one for my software job, and one for my writing. This makes sense because the only interaction between them is when one steals time away from the other – there is no dependency between any of the tasks in either place.

The software burndown is a text file generated every other week along with my weekly tracking log, while the writing burndown is a spreadsheet. This is my writing burndown chart for the first three weeks after Beltane (or thereabouts – May Day was mid-week and I like to start my sprints on a Monday).

I actually started this burndown a week into the sprint period, hence the blank week at the beginning. I use OpenOffice and LibreOffice for my spreadsheeting needs, but I believe recent Excel versions can read these too.

Tip 2: Keep Sprints Short

I use a two week sprint for my software burndown since that coincides with my working schedule, and a three week sprint on the writing. I’ve seen four week sprints work, but a week is too short – particularly in a team environment, because you always seem to lose a day to sprint planning and if you only five days to work with, then that is large overhead.

The writing case is interesting because of the low daily load – I really can’t expect to spend more than two hours a day on my creative projects, so I tried setting up six week sprints for that so as to be able to achieve a significant amount over a sprint (the six week length would also have matched the period of my progress posts)

However, that was too unwieldy and rather overwhelming – it’s easy to come up with six weeks of work (for example, the “outline all the scenes” task I put in on the above-linked sheet) but breaking down tasks into achievable chunks too far ahead of time is exactly the kind of brittle long term scheduling that this technique is intended to avoid.

Tip 3: Add Tasks For Follow-Up Work

On the Beltane burndown sheet, I have a task “brainstorming” for the New Dawn project which I implemented by scribbling on my Noteboard. When the brainstorms had passed, the follow-up task was to capture the contents of the Noteboard in a more durable form – that could have been a photo, but I wanted a Freemind mind map. So I created a task for that work mid-sprint.

Tip 4: Keep a Backlog

My sheet has an “above the line” and a “below the line” section. Tasks that are active are above the line – all of the formulae operate on a range down to the line boundary – while below the line is the holding area for tasks that have been pushed out of the sprint or which are not yet planned in.

In Agile terms, this is the backlog: tasks which are known to need to be worked on, but which aren’t actually in a sprint yet.

Backlog items may be very specific, or they may be amorphous blobs of work that encompass an entire project. For requirements-driven creative endeavours, this backlog can be very large and may need to be put somewhere else (such as a ticketing system). For generative creativity the backlog is likely to consist of work phases that will need to be started once the current phase is done.

The division between a well-formed backlog and an endless to do list can be fuzzy.

In the example sheet, the “outline all scenes” task used to be above the line. I don’t have any other backlog items on here yet.

Tip 5: Split Tasks That Are too Big

Sometimes tasks are bigger than we think at first, or there are consequential tasks that come out of the initial work.

The “outline all scenes” task I mentioned before was too large and ill-formed to be planned as single task. So I have moved it out of the active task area and am working instead on outlining the different acts of the story. I expect the actual amount of time taken will be equivalent, but having small tasks with specific objectives will be easier to stay motivated on.

Tip 6: Postpone Tasks Which Don’t Fit Any More

If one piece of work takes longer than expected so that there is no longer time in the sprint to complete other tasks, then push those tasks out (ie move them to the backlog).

This was initially what happened to the “outline all scenes” task, although that was malformed for other reasons of course.

Tip 7: Add Tasks For Unexpected Work

Let’s say that I am working on a story and I suddenly have a burning idea for another tale. What I ought to do is to note it down and carry on with the task in hand, but that isn’t always the right approach if the new story is time-sensitive, for example, or if it’s one of those stories that just shoulders all else out of its path shouting “Look at ME!!!”

If you spend an hour or more on this unexpected work, add a task to the burndown to capture that you spent time on that rather than what was planned – even if there is no more work to be done on it. This leads to erratic zeroes floating around, but it’s helpful to me at least to be able to look back and see that I was doing something with my time even if it was not exactly what I had intended.

In the example spreadsheet, the “outline transfer” task was one that I wasn’t really intending to do but it was necessary to put everything I needed in one place. The copying took about an hour and was done in a day’s writing time.

Do you have other task tracking or planning tricks you use to keep yourself on task?

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Agility

I’ve been doing software for long enough that I have seen a silver bullets: methodologies that will magically slay the monster of out-of-control development times, while banishing bugs and washing whiter than white.

They don’t, of course. Software is an unpredictable thing to make because of its innate complexity: the approaches which are most durable are those which emphasise adaptability. All of these are built on iteration, and the best of breed are the agile methods*. These cover best practices for development, testing, requirements gathering, and signing up for tasks, but the bit which is most revolutionary and which can be applied to any project – including, of course, writing – is the task tracking mechanisms.

In a standard project plan (for example, a Gantt chart or any kind of dependency graph) you would go through your list of tasks and make an estimate of how long you think it will take. Then you’d break down the task into smaller pieces and fit the work into the initial estimate. If you’re smart (or lucky, depending on circumstances) you’ll adjust your overall estimate based on how long the sub-tasks take, but you would still make an overall estimate and then work towards that. The thing you make is based on the initially agreed features, and the release will slip if any of those features are not ready.

What agile methods do is to set a fixed interval for releases, and then divide up that interval into short work periods called sprints – two weeks is a pretty common sprint length. Classically, you would be ready to deliver at the end of each sprint although I’ve never worked that way. Rather, you pick tasks that will fit into the sprint. When you are making estimates, you always pick tasks that you can estimate at two or three days of effort. If a task is too big to manage in that time, then break it into smaller tasks that can.

Here’s the clever bit.

At the end of each day, you estimate how much effort is left on the tasks you have. This is called the burn down.

That doesn’t seem terrifically powerful, but it means you can adjust: if a task is more complicated than it appeared at first then you can expose that early and get help or push out tasks to the next sprint that will no longer fit. If a task took less time than initially expected (it does happen…) then you can pull in more tasks, or help someone else who is having trouble. The analogy often drawn is between firing a gun and driving a car: everything about firing a gun is in the aim, whereas when you’re driving a car you make adjustments and steer the car as you go.

This task tracking is what I like to use for other projects. I will generate a list of broad project activities, and then break each activity into more specific tasks. For a novel, this may be outlining, then a list of scenes or chapters to be written, then reviewed, then edited, and so on. In point of fact, during the drafting process the novel is its own progress metric since you see the word count climbing and the number of completed chapters rising, but for some tasks which are bit more gnarly then the burn down chart may be more immediately useful. A burn down will help tell you if you are writing a lot more or less than initially planned, anyway.

Another major benefit of the burn down is that you can learn how long it really takes you to do particular kinds of tasks. If you always estimate consistency edits on a chapter as taking two days, but it always actually takes you three then you have the information to learn that you should start estimating it at three days in the first place.

How do you track a burn down? Well, you can find tools on the web although they are mostly not free and tend to be tuned towards software development. And really, you don’t want to be learning Rally unless you have to. For my own projects I tend to either work in a spreadsheet or a text table.

Let’s consider a short story project, for example, since that might conceivably fit into a two week sprint. I’m going to name the sprint Pony, for reasons which will become obvious, and I’m going to assume a six day week, and that you can write for two hours a day. All estimates are in hours.

Pony sprint – a short story about poniesEstMTWTFSMTWTFS
brainstorm pony story ideas2
outline story2
write first draft4
edit for consistency4
edit for plot4
edit for character2
edit for word choice2
polish4
submit1
Time left242220181614121086420
Total (hrs)27
Total (%)112

The top line of the left column is the sprint name, and its theme (an entirely optional element, but useful to give overall direction). Most of the rest of that column consists of tasks you think you need to do for the story. Other stories might need more research tasks (what do ponies like? How much sleep do they need? Would an unfamiliar pony be eaten by the herd?) but here I mostly have writing tasks. Then at the bottom we have headings for the time totals.

The second column is where the numbers start: an estimate for how many hours each task is expected to take. The totals at the bottom of the column are the number of days left multiplied by the amount of time available at the end of each day – this is the time left in the sprint – and totals for the hours expected to be worked and the percentage of those hours compared to time left. The percentage (also called loading) is particularly interesting, because it gives you some sense of how likely you are to finish in the sprint. In this case, high is definitely bad… normal loading at the start of a sprint in a software project would be 80-90% to allow for the unexpected.

The remaining columns are the days in the sprint. I’ve labelled these with days of the week, but calendar dates are more usual.

As you progress through the sprint, at the end of the work period you note the hours remaining to be done on each task. So, if at the end of Monday the brainstorming is done and you’ve made a good start on the outlining, then you can complete one task and burn off some time from another. Then you add up all the remaining tasks and recalculate the totals at the bottom.

An obvious benefit of a spreadsheet is that all this adding up can be done for you.

So, let’s look at this burn down chart after a week.

Pony sprint – a short story about poniesEstMTWTFSMTWTFS
brainstorm pony story ideas20
outline story210
write first draft4420
edit for consistency444330
edit for plot444442
edit for character222221
edit for word choice222222
polish444444
submit111111
Time left242220181614121086420
Total (hrs)272219161610
Total (%)112100958910071

From this we can see that the brainstorming went well (zero hours left) and outlining was started early (one hour remaining). The outline was completed and first draft was started and half done on Tuesday, then complete a day early on Wednesday. The consistency edits went slower, either because there were more problems than expected which needed fixing, or because other things popped up that interfered with the work (on a software project, I would usually add tasks in to document these other things, but that’s not really appropriate here). Finally, at the end of the week, the plot editing started along with some character tweaks.

Looking at the loading along the bottom, you can see that it dropped below 100% on Tuesday and kept falling, but drifted back up as the first edit task stalled. However, that was recovered at the end of the first week and this story looks like it will be finished by the end of the two weeks.

Is this tool for everyone? Not at all, but I find it useful to keep me motivated. There’s a gamification** element here – the game is to keep the load as low as you can – which makes this quite a fun planning tool as well.

[*] there’s a whole cluster of these, but a full history is not very relevant here. The first widespread one was XP (eXtreme Programming) and the one I have encountered most frequently in my professional life is Scrum.

[**] yes, this is a hideous word, but it is a term of art which captures a useful concept of making otherwise intractably large tasks manageable by turning their completion into a game.

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Outlining, part two

Right at the moment I have a broad outline: events are described in more or less detail down to the scene, and all of the scenes serve some kind of purpose.

What’s next?

Traditionally in my process this is where I would start NaNoWriMo and splurge words onto the page, but I am trying to be more deliberate and thoughtful here – attempting to observe how to make storytelling work by choice rather than by accident.

There are two things I will work on now.

Firstly, reviewing the characters – ensuring that the characters I have in play are being consistent, and have known motivations (both positive and negative) – by “known” here I mean known to the author rather than known at this point by the reader. Getting to know the characters, basically, but also making sure that the characters have a purpose in being there.

Some writers do character building a lot earlier of course – I’ve done it earlier on other stories – but this project, Song, was a story where characters for the most part emerged as they were needed by the plot and were coarsely sketched. Even when I have characters described before the initial drafting starts I don’t always have everything captured that I need, so some aspect of this character consistency work will probably be needed for any novel I work on.

In any case, I’ve started character description sheets for the major and supporting cast which reveals the depth of my ignorance about most of the characters.

(a digression – I have encountered writers using roleplaying game character sheets as templates for this kind of character description, and I think there’s a place for that, but most RPGs are too crunchy* for that to work well. If having game stats for your characters is going to help you visualise them then I say go for it, but I would find myself getting too caught up in the details)

My second task is to make more detailed notes on the scenes themselves: not writing the words, but laying out in rough descriptions what the scene structure is.

This is straying into word-making mode since this is where I will begin working in the manuscript itself: I will copy the scene descriptions from the scratch area where I’ve been working and start in on detailed outline in the scene documents.

From this workflow you may gather that I have not been using Scrivener for all of my outlining. My spreadsheet has columns for event, characters, and various kinds of notes. There aren’t enough top level fields in the Scrivener outline view to accommodate all of that: by default you have the scene summary card, and you could subdivide that with format conventions, but I would rather have this stuff more explicit.**

One interesting side effect of this process is that I will be abandoning the chapter structure from my original draft, working with scenes alone. We’ll see how I divvy up the text – not every book needs to be arranged in chapters – but keeping it more free-flowing now will help in inserting necessary scenes that wouldn’t have fitted into the former chapter structure.

Anyway, that’s the plan. See how it pans out.

Also, the profane Saint Chuck of Wendig has just posted 25 Things You Should Know About About Outlining – worth a look.

[*] crunchy here means having lots of stats to play with, and lots of game system details to manipulate to maximize the power of your character.

[**] I’ve since found that I can add this kind of custom information to Scrivener, but I’ve mentioned before how I tend to get too involved with the tool and not enough with the work so didn’t find it soon enough. I will probably spend a bit of time copying all of this across from the spreadsheet – pretty good way to stay in touch with the story though!

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Directions

I identify very firmly as a novelist – I haven’t written much short fiction, and every time I try the plots and the characters and the story just seem to expand so that I end up with another novel.

However, writing short fiction seems like a generally good thing: it’s much easier to workshop a complete story than it is for long form pieces, and being able to hand someone a 2k or 5k piece and say “look, this is what I do” makes short fiction a useful marketing tool too.

The risk involved in writing a piece of short fiction is also lower than with a novel. A novel takes at least a year to write, especially with a full time job. Jamming out an incomplete first draft can be done in a month, but turning the book into something that other people will want to read will take the rest of the year at best. And sometimes novels don’t work. I sometimes look at the morass I have walked into with Bluehammer and wonder if I will ever be able to walk out again, or whether the years I have spent are best treated as a learning experience and if I should just call the helicopter to come and rescue me.

Short fiction is, in those terms, a more attractive option to write. It’s not for nothing that experimental work tends to be done in the short form.

I also look at the recent experiments in serialised novels – specifically John Scalzi’s success with The Human Division, or Charles Stross’s Accelerando – and wonder if those are worth exploring.

Are we moving into a phase where short stories are a way to make money again?

Can I do both? Can I do more than two things?

Chuck Wendig has spoken pretty consistently about trying lots of things to see what sticks, and Neil Gaiman’s recent keynote at the Digital Minds Conference counselled much the same thing: do many things, rather than just the one. And writing novels is just the one – diversification is the future.

But I still identify as a novelist; I still want to build my complex plots and large casts and detailed settings. I still want my worlds to live.

And how, honestly, can I commit to doing more when I haven’t even finished the one thing?

This is a very confusing time. There is no map, and the compasses don’t work any more – the landscape is changing as we walk it.

People will always want stories, though. That much is certain. I just need to find good ways to make the stories and get them into people’s hands.

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